High school kids are the worst kind of mean. They’re not mature enough to hold their most evil thoughts in, but talented enough to pinpoint the very thing you are self-conscious about—then weaponize it. In high school, the gap between my two front teeth was the thing I most hated, so, naturally, it was the quality the gang of bullies took the most pleasure in calling out.
Now, I’m of two minds about my gap teeth: somedays, the words of my bullies echo between the space, but most of the time I love it and see it as something unique that sets me apart. I’m learning that my love-hate relationship is shared by an increasingly visible gap-toothed population.
Somehow both of the following things are true: There is an increase in women closing their “smile gaps,” according to New York orthodontists. Simultaneously, people with gapped teeth (medically called a diastema) are seemingly as “trendy” as faux freckles were a summer ago. They exist in the spaces of power and beauty where I’m accustomed to seeing perfectly straight ones: Jessica Hart on the runway, Dani Evans winning America’s Next Top Model, Stacey Abrams’ isolated ivories beaming on the cover of New York magazine.
“The vast majority of patients I have seen over my 30 years of practice who have a beautiful smile and a diastema have chosen to leave the diastema,” says Dr. Scott Lockhart of Create Smiles.
On the other hand there are cases like Jordyn Woods, who rose up through the Kardashian TV empire with her gapped teeth, but recently decided to shove two together two things that were supposed to be separate (ahem, I’m talking about teeth!). Her surgery is what prompted the initial emails from publicists alerting me that Woods was hardly alone in this decision.
“I’ve had a lot of young adult women seeking treatment for this type of issue, especially in the past two years,”says Dr. Oleg Dru, the leading Invisalign provider in North America and Clinical Director at Diamond Braces.
Just as I had suspected, Dru’s rationale for the uptick was public enemy number one: social media. “Because of social media, celebrity input, and those big smiles on TV, patients come in with healthy teeth and just a gap that prevents them from smiling,” explains Dru. “And that’s one of the chief complaints: ‘We wanna close the gaps.’”
When pushed about the exact increase he’s seen Dru explains it’s around 30% over the past year with over 6,000 new patients of his requesting their gaps to be closed. According to Dru a gap only affects around 20% of the population. As a part of this 20% population, I get it. Its uniqueness is also the reason for my disdain. If I smile in a picture, I’m initially reminded of my gap and how it doesn’t match up with any of the perfected smilesI’m inundated with on Instagram.
Funnily enough, social media also seems to be the reason for the diastema’s popularity. That same over-saturation of photos can be viewed the opposite way: In a sea of so many people who look the same, gapped teeth is a way to stand out as an individual.
In fact, gapped teeth are treasured in places outside of the U.S. “In some cultures like Caribbean Islanders, for example, they want the gap opened, “ says Dru. “Because they believe having a gap between the teeth is really sign of masculinity, or sexual masculinity, something like that.” It’s not just in the Caribbean either: In other cultures, gaps have been tied to wealth and sexuality. In French, the phrase for gap teeth, dents du bonheur, literally translates to “lucky teeth.” A 2010 Wall Street Journal piece about fashion’s obsession with gaps points out that medieval laws of physiognomy once saw gaps as a visual signal that a woman was lustful and licentious, according to Colin Jones, a professor at the Queen Mary University of London and author of The Smile Revolution: In Eighteenth-Century Paris.
Somehow, the information that lots of other people also voluntarily kept their gap comforted me. A feature I never fixed because it made me feel unique was shared with a number of people who must have felt the same way.
The gap is “trendy” to the point that Lockhart even had one patient (only one in the past 30 years) who asked him to create a diastema where it didn’t exist. “The patient was a hairdresser who is familiar with trends and she wanted to create the diastema because she said it was ‘cute,’” explained Lockhart. “She asked me to do this procedure within the past two years and I had to ask her a half a dozen times if I was understanding what she was asking me to do but she absolutely loved it.” Lockhart only agreed to the procedure because of crowning in the patient’s teeth.
When I asked him if he thought gaps were trendy, or “cute” right now, he was suspect. “I asked the one patient who asked for the diastema if she wanted the Lauren Hutton look she said, ‘Who?’ I explained, ‘Lauren Hutton, the model, and actress from the ’70s and ’80s who was famous for her diastema.’ Who is famous today for their diastema? Samuel L. Jackson?”
The gapped-teeth community stretches far beyond Jackson, though (cue him saying: Get these motherfucking gaps, on these motherfucking teeth). Madonna has a gap. Slick Woods, Georgia May Jagger, Lily Aldridge, Condalezza Rice, and Amy Winehouse have all been semi-faces of the diastema movement. Today, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing that over a decade ago I left my retainer at an International House of Pancakes.